by chrissy k. mcVay
part of me had been staring south for a long time. We finally found
the courage to move that direction. We sold our two-story Indiana
home and found land in the mountains of Western North Carolina. I
figured combining my husband’s Irish/Scotsman ancestry with
the southern roots on my mother’s side would satisfy the wild
seeds in both of us. We put everything into four acres of land near
Little Switzerland, North Carolina, with just a pocketful of cash
to keep us fed until my handyman husband established a client base
again. I tried to sleep the nights before the bank closed on our Indiana
home sale without clenching my jaw. What had we done?
9-11 I’d noticed many families rush to ‘circle the wagons’.
Some moved closer to relatives, clinging to the thread of blood being
thicker than water. The floodgates on fear had been let down and the
nation shifted. Shame over the desire to wildly fling all aside was
now abandoned and we ran like hobos groping the empty boxcar on a
train. Why wait for retirement to pursue our dream of a log cabin
home in the woods?
rushed preparation, we sold everything but my computer and our youngest
child, Devan. Our son had recently become a teenager and was experiencing
his own gurgles of impulsiveness. Perfect timing, given his parent’s
brief bout with insanity. He was ready to become what he called ‘a
Hippy child’ and live in a tent or yurt. His excitement calmed
me a bit as the indigestible ‘what ifs’ churned in my
husband, Tony, has always been a true pioneer. “Don’t
worry honey,” he said. “My genes from the McVay’s
dull witted, drunk ancestors combined with your barefooted Appalachian
kin are perfect for mountain isolation.”
dear,” I smirked. “You’ll get along well in the
woods. By the way, Mom says my cousins in Arkansas stopped serving
possum at the family reunions ten years ago.”
I’m not going,” he said seriously.
my fondest memories are of these open-toed-sandals, covered dish banquets
was the way our southern relatives wore their smiles as easily as
they wore their clothes; relaxed and haphazard. This casual manner
was intoxicating compared to the lifestyle of a speed rabid Yankee.
Aunt Sunshine’s house in Tennessee there were endless tables
stacked bumper to bumper with food. If it really was road kill in
those stewpots, the cooks were the most talented Chefs in the south.
At my Georgia cousins’ homes, possum could stand on its own
and taste as savory as any gourmet French Cuisine. Great care was
taken to make sure none of the fur got into the pot, and not a trace
of red clay could be found on the plates. What they lacked in possessions
they made up for in vittles, and their ramshackle houses had plenty
of room for bone gripping hugs that dripped with sincerity.
there are some ‘nearly once removed by a Judge’ Uncles
in Tennessee who have coon dogs available if you’d like to hunt
down your own possum. Rumor also has it that the Cagle side still
makes their own home brew,” I assured my husband.
brightened the sparkle in his eyes. I pictured his Scottish ancestors
lifting a pint of stout and rousting the bagpipes. ‘Here goes
another McVay straight to hell,’ the spirits laughed.
my eagerness to start off on our new adventure, I was unable to uproot
my anxiety. I believe not knowing the outcome of one’s actions
is always the worst shade of change. I focused my attention on my
burly husband. He had the shoulders of a lumberjack and heart of a
Brahma Bull. I stumbled upon the true meaning of trust in another
human being. We’d gone over all the details to launch our dream
and time would tell if we’d told ourselves facts or fictions.
can be good for the soul,” I sighed. I loaded the last tub of
belongings in the back of the work trailer. We were used to stumbling
forward in unison. In fact, we’d developed a unique talent for
drove the van with our two Golden Retrievers hunched nervously in
the back; legs sprawled on a castle of every pillow and blanket we
owned. Our thirteen-year-old son rode ahead of me in the truck with
his dad so he couldn’t smell my fear.
Ho!” my husband shouted into the cell phone. He knew that my
legs trembled and my face had probably gone pasty.
be such a coward,” I told myself. “Your mother’s
kin began down there in the dark hollows.” Wasn’t I just
going home? I visualized myself cooking over a potbelly stove like
Great Granny Gibson had done nearly all ninety-six years of her exuberant
life. I swear her large brood had lived off bacon grease, fat-back,
and mayonnaise sandwiches. What was I worried about?
After a few hours on the open trail we discovered that we were hardly
the only pioneers. People just like us, brewed from poverty into brittle
bits of heart and soul, were scattered like tumbleweeds across the
country. I recognized the same pinched features, brazened by the uncertainty.
We drifters stopped at convenience stations where we could find the
lowest priced gas. Many forced nomads made time to chat with me. They
must’ve realized from my disheveled appearance and lack of coinage
that I was a tumbleweed too.
woman was too tossed around by life, her frown sealed harder than
the granite that held up the yellow lines on the road we followed.
Hubby and her were from Texas. Their three-bedroom home sold fast
but didn’t make much profit.
only factory in town left us,” she explained. “Just made
enough to buy a camper and keep a foreclosure off our financial record.”
job floated overseas,” her husband half-laughed as he sidled
up to the conversation. They both looked near fifty and in no mood
to start over again.
I glanced at his camper home that rode piggyback on his pickup. I
tried not to notice the two bald rear tires strained under the weight.
“Where do you think you’ll go?” I asked.
shrugged. “We buy a newspaper in every big town we pass through
and look at the classifieds for a decent paying job. They can’t
all go overseas.”
We soon discovered other tumbleweeds like the Texas couple, faces
sagging, yet eyes peeking into the horizon. We met a young man on
a motorcycle who was very eager to talk. He saw our Indiana license
plates and his face blossomed. “I’m heading north,”
he sang out. “I hear Canada.”
mortgage on his ranch house had gone up due to the raised property
taxes. When the wages at the auto plant where he worked were cut in
half, he could no longer afford to live in his middle class neighborhood.
say screw it! Time for a change of citizenship.” He pointed
to the cart being lugged behind his motorcycle and assured me there
was a good size tent wadded up in there, as well as a thick sleeping
careful.” I said in a motherly way.
have clean underwear and socks, Mom” he teased. He revved the
engine and took the highway at full speed. Here was someone not even
twenty-five, perhaps running from a wagonload of misery, and willing
to turn the blindest corner of all by leaving his own country.
hope he knows what he’s doing,” I told my husband anxiously.
we’ve floated out here on hopes and dreams just like he has,”
my husband reminded. “We’ve probably got a little more
money than he does, but it’ll go fast, even if we live off tuna
and grilled cheese.”
so we wandered off. Strangers and friends, all content with our faith
in human perseverance and hope as we shifted upon our karmic winds.
Tony and I planned to squeeze the juice out of that breeze. I felt
luckier than most of the tumbleweeds we passed. I gazed at puttering
station wagons loaded to the windows with clothes and wondered how
the occupants coped. At least Tony and I had a temporary shelter once
we reached our destination.
After twelve hours on the highways we delivered ourselves into our
new home; a broken down trailer. The sweet, elderly gentleman who’d
sold us the land gave us the three-bedroom singlewide to live in until
we built our new home. I rushed through the door like a young bride
and tilted my head back as the mildew whacked me in the nostrils.
needs a bit of lipstick and rouge,” Tony said meekly.
like the entire Revlon Cosmetics counter,” I answered. My hope
balloon deflated. But when I opened up one of the thin windows and
took in a gulp of Blue Ridge Mountain air, a tingle went from my skull
to my toes. Outside was a bounty of pine, oak, and rhododendron. There
were valleys full of seasoned native grasses spun golden upon autumn’s
sloped shoulders and a rainforest smell that permeated the breezes
drifting under the wings of numerous red tailed hawks.
felt my soul being polished to a shine brighter than the diamonds
and emeralds surely hiding in the earth under our hills. Perhaps we
twinkled even brighter than the Blue Ridge Gems, for we’d never
be torn from our patch of land.
I’ll live here in a mud soddy with you,” I promised, and
My husband’s smile burst from the belly up. He watched me toil
happily with disinfectant, primer, and paint. His adoration grew with
each patch of yellowed tile I scrubbed clean. He turned to his own
chore and cut away rotted boards. I knew his muscles must’ve
ached after a full day of basically rebuilding what I’d nicknamed
the ‘cardboard box’. Father and son never once complained
as they ripped out moldy carpet and repaired the numerous holes in
our warbled roof. Finally the major work was done and I could unpack.
Unloading our belongings had always turned into an adventure in our
household, for I refused to label. As I opened and sorted over the
next few days, it felt like an early Christmas.
the toaster,” I’d coo. My husband always nodded cheerfully.
He’d been through this routine. When I unpacked the elusive
coffee pot we basked in our good fortune and relaxed with a much-missed
cup of java. We’d had Caffeine DT’s the last couple nights
and the headaches and shakes had increased.
day our sacrifices seemed less severe as I discovered yet another
item sorely missed. With glee we found our toothbrushes and paste.
Finger swabs with baking soda didn’t seem to cut it.
got a build up of plaque thicker than the corn crust on your Tennessee
Grand Pappy’s moonshine still,” my husband laughed. He
was having a boisterous time coming up with witty sarcasms that involved
my backwoods relatives. To my horror, the humorous locals helped him
think of new taunts.
My husband and son quickly retreated to the bathroom when I dug out
other toiletries such as shavers and cologne. I’d never seen
them so eager to scrub away the day’s dirt. I started to feel
like a black market dealer in a foreign country as I doled out booty.
“At least we got to the soap right away. I was concerned about
fleas or roundworm,” I said. “I’ll never have roundworm.”
say never,” Tony mumbled through a thick mouthful of toothpaste.
If there was ever any doubt still nibbling at my confidence in being
able to adapt to mountain life, I only had to look into my husband’s
deep brown eyes and see the pure determination buried there. Besides,
he’d never tromped on any of my dreams. Now it was my turn to
the second week of tossing in my sleep while I dreamed of our former
home back in Indiana, I went to the bathroom mirror to finally face
myself. “This is enough,” I scolded the reflection with
furrowed brows. “You have kin down here stretching from the
Carolinas to Georgia. Everyone makes changes.” I stumbled back
to bed and felt my husband reach for my hand. He picked up my fingers
and lightly kissed them.
Don’t worry,” he whispered. “I’ll find work
soon and you’ll publish your novel.” He stated it as if
everything waited just around the next corner.
thought back on our years together thus far. Anything Tony had set
out to do he’d accomplished. We’d moved into our house
back in Indiana seven years before when it was practically a run down
shack. He’d quickly renovated each room and tripled the home’s
was so glad he couldn’t see the tears in my eyes when I rolled
toward him. “You’re absolutely right Mr. McVay. Our dreams
are going to work out just fine, no more worrying. In fact, tomorrow
morning I’ll call Grandma Tressie and get the old Gibson recipe
for Tennessee Possum Stew. I’m sure we can figure out a way
to teach our retrievers how to tree a critter for supper.”
has found great inspiration, and many friends, living in the Blue
Ridge Mountains. Her first novel, ‘Souls of the North Wind’
was released in June 2005.